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Venice 2010: Why the biennale matters

The Venice Biennale may be pretentious, but it is also a vital hotbed of ideas, says Christine Murray

The Venice Architecture Biennale kicks off this Sunday, promising its usual circus of exhibitions from around the world. As the first images filter through of the biannual event, as usual, some of the exhibits look more like art installations than architecture exhibits.

Back at AJ headquarters, we’ve been debating Venice’s relevance to the profession. At first glance, it’s easy to sneer and dismiss the work on show as pretentious compared with the practice of the average architectural Joe. You may justifiably ask, what does Tony Fretton’s abandoned car in the Arsenale have to do with me?

But despite its occasional flights of fancy, from Ricky Burdett’s analysis of cities in 2006 to Ellis Woodman’s round-up of British housing design in 2008 Venice has proved itself a provocative crucible of ideas.

This year’s British Pavilion, commissioned by Vicky Richardson and created by Muf, is no exception. It engages with British architecture’s historic love affair with Venice, with Ruskin and his fascination with Venetian Gothic. Finally, Muf’s Stadium of Close Looking – a 1:10 simplified and reduced model of the London 2012 Olympic Stadium – is sure to become a place to meet, to talk, to observe, to draw, to debate and to discuss British architecture.

Venice is where new conversations about architecture begin. And once it’s over, no matter how unlikely this year’s exhibits may have seemed, inspiration derived from Venice eventually feeds back into even the most commercial project or mundane house extension – just as the most unlikely fashions from the runways of Paris are eventually diluted and re-interpreted for Primark or George at Asda.

The spectacle of Venice may not be for everyone. And so we will endeavour to bring back its freshest ideas and make them palatable and digestible. Somewhere amid its pageantry and pretention, we will be looking for that nugget of something truly innovative and new; the architectural germ of something to come.

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